Fusionist or Liberaltarian?

Which is easier for a libertarian? Trading in the black markets of banned social behaviors or not paying your taxes? Clearly the former. That’s why when it comes to the unsavory business of political team sports, I generally get behind the team that signals a greater likelihood of leaving the economy to heal itself holistically. Whatever team is more likely to stay out of my pocket and tries not to punish performance (as much) will get my vote. That’s why I continue to support “fusionism,” the coalition between conservatives and libertarians. In short, the accretion of state power in economic matters is much more serious to me than concerns about the renaissance of the moral majority. I’d rather have a President with quaint views on sexuality and drug use than a Fabian Socialist with a trillion-dollar credit card.

But many beltway libertarians have gone “liberaltarian.”  It’s a term meant to describe freedom-lovers who share common purpose with the left on social issues and have therefore made a couple of steps leftward, politically—perhaps even far enough to give hope and change a chance in the voting booth. At least social issues are part of their motivation. Apparently, these libertarians are also tempted by both the pretentions and progressivity of the left—some by the pseudo-intellectual salon culture, others by the genuinely intelligent and cultured members of the leftwing. Libertarians, generally, recoil from the strain of populist conservatism that was created in the left’s caricature of Sarah Palin late last year. And who can blame them? Truly populist conservatives can, indeed, be pretty intolerant and toleration is the prime virtue of any civil society.

So, while I would urge libertarians to carry on sipping lattes with their liberal acquaintances, I’d also suggest they make their core political allegiances with the limited government right—particularly in this age of champagne socialism, White House messiahs and big government fetishism. After all, that’s the only way we libertarians will continue to get a word in edgewise while speaking truth to power. We won’t get it by ingratiating ourselves to lefties and dropping comments about “dispersed knowledge” at cocktail parties. Such is not likely to impress those for whom equality of outcome is their first and last value.

Yuval Levin lays it out pretty well when he writes:

In American politics, the distinction between populism and elitism is further subdivided into cultural and economic populism and elitism. And for at least the last forty years, the two parties have broken down distinctly along this double axis. The Republican party has been the party of cultural populism and economic elitism, and the Democrats have been the party of cultural elitism and economic populism. Republicans tend to identify with the traditional values, unabashedly patriotic, anti-cosmopolitan, non-nuanced Joe Sixpack, even as they pursue an economic policy that aims at elite investor-driven growth. Democrats identify with the mistreated, underpaid, overworked, crushed-by-the-corporation “people against the powerful,” but tend to look down on those people’s religion, education, and way of life. Republicans tend to believe the dynamism of the market is for the best but that cultural change can be dangerously disruptive; Democrats tend to believe dynamic social change stretches the boundaries of inclusion for the better but that economic dynamism is often ruinous and unjust.

Where does that leave the libertarian? Are we to be the cultural and economic elitists? Such a lonely place. But unless we’re talking about weirdo survivalists in rural Michigan or computer gamers claiming a 2nd Amendment right to own nuclear warheads, many beltway libertarians might, indeed, be considered doubly elitist. Still, I wouldn’t strain these characterizations to make them fit. I like the term “dynamists” much better. While we are much more likely to be cast as apologists for both fat cats and pot-smokers, we’d rather be known as those who see the value of innovation and progress through free association—whether in the cultural or economic sphere. And while we have our own branding problems, we bring some important things to the table—unbeatable understanding of market processes, tech-savvy, and a pretty good insight into the way the left thinks.

So the question remains: with which of the two major power-centers (realistically speaking) should we cast our lot? Should we be liberaltarians or fusionists? Well, it depends. The troubling truth is that in recent years Republicans have given us little on which to pin our hopes. If you’re asking libertarians to choose between two statist mobs, we’d just as soon stay home and write snarky articles at both sides from the comfort of our ineffectual non-profits. (Our rectitude is enough to sustain us.) And while we haven’t seen political power since the 18th Century when a couple of us sat down and wrote those Founding documents, we should realize that there is probably a lot more overlap with conservatives on matters of statecraft. In fact, the best hope for the Republican Party is probably to become more like us. But if conservatives want to keep this fusionist coalition going, they’re going have to do more to keep from losing libertarians to the cappuccino crowd. And we can’t afford to lose each other. Not right now. Not with so much at stake. Let's put the Bush years behind us and move on.

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Put the religious populists behind you.

they don't play nice with anyone.

As a liberaltarian

I would be much more amenable to the Republican party if they accepted gays and atheists. (Or, to be more clear, if there wasn't such antipathy towards them by the base.)

Also, if they weren't willing to give power to executive positions in nearly every situation imaginable.

You mention how liberaltarians usually give weight to social issues, fusionists to economic. What about if you're for isolationism and reduced executive power? Where should you turn then?

Is fusionism good enough?

Here's the problem I see with the "small government" as preached by the Republicans lately. Sure--get rid of Capital Gains Tax, keep deregulating business, cut social spending to the bone. Okay, Libertarians can get behind this if it's really about shrinking the government and giving power back to the people.

But I never hear Republicans talk about shrinking other parts of the government. What about the Pentagon and military? $500-billion a year + all the extra spending for overseas wars? Libertarians are also about "no empire building". Cut social spending, cut taxes, BUT ALSO cut military to simple National Defense. This should be the core of any talk of smaller government.

Until Republicans are serious about small government, cutting their own power, and giving people control over their own lives...it's all just rhetoric. Cheap tactics as they scramble for a pluse. It's moving money around to different places (see Reagan's deficit spending).

Also, what you call "quaint views" among Republican leadership is totally downplaying the deep corrosion of ideas within the GOP. Over half of the GOP presidential candidates said they don't believe in Evolution. Intolerance of gays is way to whip up the base. It is a bankruptcy of logic because they fear anything outside of "cut taxes".

I'm waiting for the Republicans to become more like Libertarians. Why party on a sinking ship? They have a loooooooooooooooong way to go.


I'm waiting for the Republicans to become more like Libertarians. Why party on a sinking ship? They have a loooooooooooooooong way to go.

First, the Republican Party is not the Libertarian Party and never will be.  Why should they be?  There already is a Libertarian Party.  In terms of sheer politics, the supposedly "sinking ship" of the Republican Party received, oh I don't know, about a thousand times more votes than the Libertarian Party.  So in terms of political relevance, the Republicans are way more relevant than the Libertarians.  So while it is good that the GOP reaches out to libertarian-minded folks, if you want even a small degree of that relevance, it is going to mean compromise on your part as well as on the GOP's.  Tell me, what are you willing to compromise on? 

Second, Republicans have almost no power right now at the national level.  What are you expecting them to do to demonstrate that they are now serious about cutting spending?  All they have now is rhetoric.

Here is the real deal

Michael Tennant just took my breath away: Socialism, Republican-style.


So please, let's not talk about Libertarians accepting crumbs. Let the current GOP burn out. I still see folks around here rah rah rah Karl Rove. Can you imagine? Why isn't that guy ashamed to show his face? Because base Republicans are sad.



So please, let's not talk about Libertarians accepting crumbs. Let the current GOP burn out.

Jay, you make reasonable points about the ways in which the Republican Party fails to be sufficiently libertarian.   But what do you propose libertarians choose to do as a result?  Equivalent arguments can be made about Democrats failing to be sufficiently libertarian (on similar and different issues).   Neither Party is ideal - nor is the LP or non-participation - so the choice is between a lot of sub-optimal options.   Once we acknowledge the problems with each, we still need to make a choice and work within that.   What do you propose is the right decision?

Good question

Neither Party is ideal - nor is the LP or non-participation - so the choice is between a lot of sub-optimal options.   Once we acknowledge the problems with each, we still need to make a choice and work within that.   What do you propose is the right decision?

My comment was to Max's straw man argument. Democrats are socialists, Republicans at least have some Libertarian rhetoric...so be a Republican. Don't drink lattes.

Chemjeff made a good point. Why should the Republicans become more Libertarian? The GOP has forced itself into a regional party, but it still has millions and millions of supporters. So I'm not holding my breath. The GOP is just angling to find another emotional issue to whip up supporters.

Libertarians have two choices: the Democratic form of Big Government, or the Republican form of Big Government. Let's not cloud definitions.

People may say Libertarians are a small group, but I'm surpised how many of their ideas are now swimming around mainstream conversations. They may not be a huge voting block, but I think their logic is infectious when discussed with an open mind. And I believe this to be true on both sides of the aisle.

Republicans come closer to the financial ideas, while the Democrats better embrace the ideas of civil liberty. Of course you can argue the shades of grey endlessly. There are contradictions on both sides.

So as a Libertarian, I think it's about enganging anyone who is willing to discuss rational ideas instead of being satisfied with a political ghetto. Calling bullshit is a powerful weapon. Keeping the language and defintions that we use crystal clear is very very important.

Jon, you often talk about politicians making decisions when it's not politically convenient. Like Transparancy. Like limiting their own power. These are good ideas to get behind, but I don't see them as being specific to either party.

Good to be occasionally represented

Can't help but make a geek reference that as a Libetarian I feel like the romulans on Star Trek. I say, why do we have to choose? I totally agree with the remark

Libertarians have two choices: the Democratic form of Big Government, or the Republican form of Big Government. Let's not cloud definitions.

I definitely am social liberal, fiscal conservative. I like the small government talk of the Rep party, I'd just wish they'd back it up. I like the social consiousness of the Dems, I just wish they didn't feel like they had to solve everyone's problems. I just wish Libertarians (or even Independants), had more power to influence rather than always be sidelined critics of both parties. 


I think that Millenials

Will be of a libertarian bent. Mainly due to two factors: the internet, and the catastrophes of Iraq. Those two things will, I think, lead millenials to being in favor for more social equality (ie gay marriage) while also probably producing a good amount of isolationists.

It should be interesting.

investment advice of the century:

make more $5,000 friends -- the sort who you could give that much money to, and expect to ask for it back in three months, and have them give it back.

Give it 15 years...

for the current generation to start dying off. Not to be morbid, but sometimes change simply happens because the people who hold old ideas actually die.

If you talk to young people who are growing up online, they intuitively understand that the government should stay out of their social issues, and know that their networked communities are much better at solving problems than the government. No nanny state needed in my personal life or financial life.

When old democrats and old republicans (who are still fighting 1960 battles) are laid to rest, the leaders will be Gen X'ers like me. As a whole, I think we are less dogmatic, more practical, and logically tolerant. With the Millenials as our base, debates about the drug war, medicare, intelligent design, welfare, etc will seem almost silly.

I think Libertarian thought is similar to using Craigslist. It's a true free market, you choose what you want, and there's a level playing field. The community sets its own standards and is very tolerant. This is the thinking of future government IMHO. This is the experience that future voters are having now that will reflect in their political choices.



yeah, it's a start. GenXers are still

born and bred american dopes, so who knows.

if we make it thirty years, and I have my doubts in my black and shriveled heart...

well, then we might be getting somewhere.


But you seem to grok the growing evolution toward organic collectivism. Government will need to be smaller, leaner, and more agile to adapt to private citizen movements that hold the potential to rival it in terms of power.

"political ghetto"

Chemjeff made a good point. Why should the Republicans become more Libertarian?

That wasn't my point.  Sure I think the Republican Party could stand to become more libertarian on lots of issues.  But it will never become a clone of the Libertarian Party, that would be stupid - if the Libertarian Party platform was so much more appealing than the GOP, it wouldn't be a third party.  So this means that if capital-L Libertarians want relevance within the Republican Party, or the Democratic Party for that matter, there will have to be some give-and-take.

So as a Libertarian, I think it's about enganging anyone who is willing to discuss rational ideas instead of being satisfied with a political ghetto. Calling bullshit is a powerful weapon. Keeping the language and defintions that we use crystal clear is very very important.

This sounds very nice to engage.  Engage all you want.  I'm a huge fan of engaging.  But this is something Libertarians, as well as the rest of us, have to remember: a mass political movement is, to a not insignificant degree, an exercise in collectivism.  In order to get anything done, individuals participating in political parties have to subsume part of their individualistic tendencies for the benefit of the party as a whole; otherwise we will just spend all of our time bickering with each other over issue after issue in which we are not in precise 100% agreement.  This is tough for all of us on the right side of the political spectrum to accept, as we tend to instinctively reject collectivist ideas.  What this means is that in order to participate, we have to compromise to a certain degree.  So the only real question is, how much do you want to compromise?  You can compromise very little, and stay with the Libertarian Party, which has zero political power.  Or you can compromise some more, and work within a political movement that actually has a degree of political power.  You call this being in a "political ghetto".  I call it reality.

 Hi Max, good post.  Very

 Hi Max, good post.  Very thoughtful.  I would submit that beltway libertarians have gone Libertarian in large part because during the last 12 years the GOP has gone hard statist and has become almost totally dominated and controlled by the hard religious/social statists.  [Maybe this is changing, we shall see].  In fact, during the rein of Bush-Rove there was really a concerted effort to drive out the more libertarian components of what had been the previous conservative coalition (the Reagan coalition if you will) because Rove viewed the religious/social right activists as much easier to animate and cheaper to maintain.  In addition, a significant portion of the economic conservatives were bought off with the constant rhetoric about tax cuts as a distraction from the horrific increases in spending and expansion of government, and the business interests were kept happy with earmarks lots of fresh corn in the feeding trough each and every year of the Tom DeLay - George W. Bush era.

So, maybe we can return to some semblance of fusionism.  I guess I am a fusionist with a slight tilt toward the libertarian side.


Do we need republicans or a realistic plank to get indies?

Correct me if I'm wrong but I think the numbers are 32% republican, 38% percent dem and 30% other. I'm starting to see the republican party as religious and intransigent. Yes, there are the Goldwater republicans whom I more identify with, but they seem to have been marginalized for some time. Also, despite what the right says, not all Dems are socialists. Many are 'classical liberals', i.e. the government creates a door for success but it's up to you to walk through it. They are fiscally conservative and generally don't want big government, but also strongly believe in personal choice and the separation of church and state.

Libertarians are now basically viewed as anarchic independents. Maybe it's a bit much to make a plank like the republicans to ignore, but to better articulate a meaningful discussion, Libertarians might be able to get goldwater republicans and moderate dems and independants.  I would love, along with many others, to see a third party alternative. And Nadar isn't it.

how about Bernie?

Sanders for President!

A credible 3rd party

Is unlikely to start at the Prez level. Ross was a rare and fleeting event.

Electoral Politics

This is the magic word. Historically, third party campaigns have ignored that a national election is won by strategy. Ron Paul, Nader, Perot...they all felt all they needed to do was by on TV with the other candidates. They thought ideas would win.

The Democrats and Republicans both have huge machines with local leaders in every county in the nation. They have elected and appointed leaders on school boards, county supervisors, sheriffs, etc.

A successful third party needs to be more than a single personality and "money bombs". For instance, Libertarians would need to create their own machine. Start winning elections locally. Have a 25 year plan.

The meat of campaigns are really won during the off-season...not the ten months of election mania. Look at Bobby Jindle or Sarah Palin. The GOP is working on these guys now. Raising money, paying staff, getting consultants, teaching public speaking, polling, working on talking points. The machine.

So the Libertarians would need to put some serious money behind an organization, and find geniusly talented people who know how to win at Electoral politics. The good news is that the internet is flattening the playing filed so committed people could organize for elections, locally and nationally, with much less overhead.


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